Monday, 18 December 2017

Interview with Lisa Bunker


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Lisa Bunker, an American writer, known for her debut novel “Felix Yz“ (Viking, 2017), about a boy fused with an alien. Her second novel, “Zenobia July”, about a trans girl getting to live as a girl for the first time in a new school, is due to be published in Winter/Spring 2019, also from Viking. Hello Lisa!
Lisa: Hi Monika! I’m glad to be talking to you today.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lisa: Well, you covered the basic facts of my current life situation in your intro. I’m finally a full-time author after decades of trying to make that my work. Also, I’m in a wonderful relationship and finally getting to find out what it’s like to love and be loved as the person I actually am. Plus, my children are grown and my parents are gone. So, I guess you could say I’m a person whose dreams have finally come true who then finds herself curiously free to look around for the next thing to do.
Monika: How did you start writing books?
Lisa: I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five, and I’ve worked at it all my life. Felix was my third finished novel and maybe the 15th or 20th I started. All those years, whatever else I was doing, I was also writing.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer, poet or artist?
Lisa: Honestly, I don’t think being trans makes me that different from cis writers. Writing is not an inherently gendered act. It’s a human mind and soul alone with a language, trying to make something out of it that will give other humans insight or pleasure or comfort or all three. That said, of course I’m in a unique position to tell trans stories, and I do think it matters to hear stories from the people who have lived them.
More information about the book.
Monika: Your main characters are usually teenagers ...
Lisa: So far, they are. The first two ideas I’ve been able to sell have had young main characters. But I have ideas for books with adult main characters too.
Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Lisa: Not just trans characters—most characters. I find writing to be a form of play-acting, a kind of internal improv, and I cast myself and people I know in the various roles and then imagine what we would all say and do. Most of my characters have at least a little bit of me in them. Facets.
Monika: Is it difficult to be a poet or writer in such materialistic times?
Lisa: It has always been hard to make a living as a writer. I consider myself fortunate to have finally gotten published by a major house, and to be making a living now creating stories for people. In short, I finally got my lucky break. But I do take credit for not giving up. It took me 40 years to get into the game, but I kept trying, kept improving my craft, so when I finally got my words in front of the right person, that person said, “I want to see more.”
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Lisa: I transitioned in my mid-40’s, and it was hard work, but I got through it. It helped that I had supportive people around me.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Lisa: It was an enormous help early on to find a local support group, so that I could see with my own eyes that I was not alone. I also got a lot of strength from Jenny Finney Boylan’s book “She’s Not There.”
Monika: Many trans people lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions when they transition. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Lisa: I lost almost nothing, except the money I had to spend to pay for transition costs. In particular the folks at my job were wonderful—so supportive and accepting. The part of transition I worried the most about and worked hardest on was coming out to my children, and that was a little bumpy at times, but it turned out fine in the end. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. What do you think in general about the present situation of trans people in contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Lisa: I think change is really happening, and we’ve come so far, but we still have a long way to go. We find ourselves right in the middle of a sea-change in our culture around gender identity. It’s fascinating to be part of that.


Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Lisa: In the history of the overall LGBTQ movement, there have been a few times when the other letters were perhaps not as completely supportive of the T as they could have been, but overall it seems to me that happy coordination and mutual support and love are the norm under the big rainbow umbrella. Yay for that!
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender people can make a difference in politics?
Lisa: I was active in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine, both times that fight was fought. I’ve also fought for equal protection under the law for trans folks in both Maine and New Hampshire. And, yes, absolutely, we can make a difference in politics. Look at Danica Roem, who just got elected to the state legislature in Virginia. She ran a prinicipled campaign on her qualifications and the issues, and she beat the self-proclaimed “chief homophobe” of the state. It was such a sweet moment. It also inspired me to run for office myself. I will be a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2018.
Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pill whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Lisa: That’s an interesting parallel to draw, but I don’t think it’s completely accurate. Passing/not passing is still a big puzzle for many trans folks, whether because they can’t afford cosmetic surgeries, or because they choose not to have them, or because even if they do some gender markers of their old biological sex still remain.

Lisa's website.

Monika: Many transgender people write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lisa: I’ve thought about it, but if I ever do it I don’t want to churn out yet another earnest autobiography with an inspirational title. I mean, those are nice, but we have plenty of them already. Maybe in comic novel form. Play up the absurd aspects, with a healthy dollop of snarky cultural critique on top. Something like that. We’ll see.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lisa: I recently found my One, and since I found her post-transition, she loves me for who I truly am. She’s wonderful, and I’m head over heels, and we’re engaged to be married next June, and our relationship transformed my life and has made all the other happy developments I’ve experienced recently possible. Love saved me. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all trans people struggling with gender dysphoria?
Lisa: Oh, sweeties, I feel for you! Take it a day at a time, and when that’s too much, hour at a time, and when that’s too much, minute, second... Kate Bornstein has a strong take on this. She says, do anything else you have to rather than harm yourself, as long as you’re not mean to other humans.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Lisa: That’s lovely. I would put it slightly differently, though. I would say, gender identity is only one aspect, and not the most important, of who we are. So, whatever our desires with regard to transition, and whichever of those desires we are able to bring to fruition, and whatever that costs us, we are still and always gorgeous humans, worthy to live and work and participate in all aspects of society, worthy to love and be loved, exactly as we are.
Monika: Lisa, thank you for the interview.
Lisa: Thank YOU! It has been a pleasure. :-D

All the photos: courtesy of Lisa Bunker. 
Done on 18 December 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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